Eight Seconds of Silence: The Death of Democracy Activists Behind Bars


After the 1988 people’s uprising in Burma, thousands of  people were arrested and imprisoned. Nearly all have faced torture or ill-treatment at the hands of  the authorities. Such torture and ill-treatment has resulted in death for many.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has documented the cases of 127 democracy activists who died after enduring torture or ill-treatment in custody. Due to the political situation in Burma, all cases of death in custody are not known. Further, many details of the known cases cannot be collected.

Information in this report concerning the political background and the circumstances of death for each democracy activist was taken from their families, the former political prisoners who met the deceased in prison, publications of political parties, human rights organizations and even the SPDC, and documents from the prison and medical staff  of  the prisons. Over the course of  a year, all relevant information was gathered and verified.Eight  Seconds of Silences : Special report by AAPP-B

Of the at least 127 deaths, 90 have died in prison, 8 in the interrogation centers, 4 in the labor camps, and 10 shortly after being released from prison. 15 activists have disappeared from the prisons, and their whereabouts remain unknown to date.

Since early 2005 alone, 9 democracy activists have died behind bars. The increased number of deaths in the past year is reflective of the rise in torture and ill-treatment. It is also indicative of the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) policy. The SPDC is attempting to systematically silence political dissent in Burma. Torture and ill-treatment of  political prisoners is one means by which they implement their policy. This report looks at Burma’s interrogation centers, prisons and labor camps to explain the cause of death for those who have passed away while detained by the military regime. Torture and ill-treatment are endemic in these locations. The general prison conditions and prison healthcare system are aggravated and cause a level of  suffering equivalent to torture in the majority of  political prisoners’ cases.

The disappearance of political prisoners has occurred in fifteen documented cases, though there are likely several undocumented cases. A section of the report details the known cases of disappearance, and explains the regime’s frequent withholding of  information on a political prisoners’ location in order to terrorize their families.

After release from prison, several political prisoners face physical and mental illnesses for which they are unable to receive treatment. The lack of treatment is due to varying factors, but primary among them is the lack of money and general knowledge about the health concerns of political prisoners. Several political prisoners have died from the inability to treat a basic illness. Further, the mental health care system in Burma is virtually non-existent, leaving former political prisoners with no means of  relieving their mental suffering. Some political prisoners have committed suicide as a result. This report looks at the circumstances surrounding the deaths of those political prisoners who died shortly after release.

When political prisoners die, their families face many problems. The families of  deceased political prisoners have often been informed of  their loved ones death only after the authorities have cremated the body, so that any evidence of  torture or ill treatment is destroyed. Additionally, the authorities are known to have pressured doctors into falsifying the results of their autopsy. Though most do not, if  a family attempts to challenge the authorities’ explanation for their loved ones death, they have no independent witnesses to verify their claims one way or the other.

The families of political prisoners have on some occasions been offered bribes to remain silent as to the cause of their loved ones death. Most reject the bribe, and a few have defiantly spoken about the real cause of their loved one’s death. Further, families of  deceased political prisoners often must bury their loved ones according to the direction of the authorities. Intelligence personnel often infiltrate funerals, noting which people attend so that they can later be detained and interrogated. The aftermath of  political prisoners’ deaths is explained in this report.

Finally, this report provides detailed information on the political background and death of  nearly all documented cases of  death in custody. These brief biographies are meant to demonstrate the brutality of  the authorities and the innocence of  the victims.

Though in a number of  the cases of  death in custody, the authorities responsible for the individuals’ death are known, no action has ever been taken to hold them accountable. 127 democracy activists have been killed with complete impunity.

Currently, there are at least 1,156 political prisoners in Burma. Several are in poor and rapidly deteriorating health, and many are at risk for torture. If they are not released immediately,  they will face the same fate as those who have died in custody.

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